Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Grandmother's House

Sister Dawn, Mark, Aunt Lena, 50 yrs. ago.

The Good Old Days
Old Fashioned Efficiency

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the time I lived with my Grandparents. Almost 4o years ago in Weiser, Idaho. I spent a lot of time with them growing up. My dear Mother, bless her heart, would leave me with them when she was busy dealing with her own problems. From my earliest memory it seemed to me they were always so happy to have me. I always thought I had the greatest Grandparents in the world. No one else had Grandparents like mine. I didn't really know that we were just poor, hard working people. The most exciting thing in my life was when they would show up. When I was with them I felt like I was rich. Maybe the fact that I was the oldest of all the grandkids on both sides of the family had some significant meaning. My mother was the first born in her family and so was my father, and so were their fathers. Biblically speaking then, I should have had a great inheritance.

One of the things that made it so special was the fact that they produced my Aunt Marlena, in 1956 - the year after I was born. It was and is the most wonderful thing that happened. Grandpa was 52. My little sister was born a year later in 1957. We all kind of grew up together.
My grandmother's maiden name was Trent. She was the next to the youngest of 11 children. The Trent's were good looking English and Scotsmen. She was often compared to Ginger Rogers. I remember, it was when they lived in Anderson CA. I was only 7 or 8. She would have me operate on the corns on her feet. I was always very articulate with my hands and I still have good close up vision. Grandma would say, " Look at the way he handles that razor blade. He's gonna be a surgeon when he grows up!" Then she would grab and hug me and try to kiss me, I would always squirm and resist. She would say, " Oh you Marco Polo, Gramma loves you." No one would have guessed that someday I would become a Tree Surgeon.

Probably the best experience in my young life growing up, was going with my Sister and my Aunt and Gramma and Grandpa, picking with the Mexicans. Grandpa had a heart attack and some other disabilities, but he just couldn't sit still. He essentially wore himself out working. Grandma always said no one ever worked as hard as he did. They had a 1964 Ford pickup with a camper. We would camp near the job by the Willamette River. The mainstay was pole beans. Three cents a pound. They said it had been three cents forever. If I worked long and hard and steady I could make $10.00 a day. That's 333 pounds of hand picked beans. Marlena would always pick the most, but the little Mexican kids would out pick any of us. An interesting note here. This was right at the time when they were starting to develop the machine to pick the bush beans. A few times we had to pick those because the machines went back to the drawing board. That was not as bad as picking strawberries though. Even us young kids would feel like our backs were broken at the end of the day.

Then there were all the camp chores when we got back. The camper was a kitchen during the day for cooking and canning. Gramma was a wonderful cook. She took the green beans we picked and new potatoes and made the best dish. It was so good. We never got tired of it. Then the camper converted to a bedroom at night. The table made into a bed for the old folks and Marlena and my sister slept in the little bed over the cab. I slept in the cab of the truck.

Later we came to Southern Idaho. It seemed like paradise. We picked cherries in the spring. I would always work the tallest ladder and get all the high cherries. If it rained, the cherries would split. Then everyone was sad, the farmer and the pickers. We thinned apples. I think that is done chemically now. In the fall when it started to frost we picked apples. You would have to wait in the morning until it warmed up enough. You could hear them snap, crackle, pop. We all fell in love with Idaho. Our family all lived in California. My mother was born in Kansas in 1934. She contracted dust pneumonia as an infant. Grandma and Grandpa packed her up and came to California in 1935, in the middle of the Great Depression. Idaho was a great discovery for all the family. The ones that didn't move here loved to come and visit. It was so wonderful. Everything was cheaper and better. We could glean for free all the potatoes, onions, apples, and produce we could can or chuck in the cellar.

Real estate was at an all time low. They started off buying one little house to fix up and sell, and then another. Two or three thousand dollars at first. Then four or five thousand. We cleaned them up and fixed them up. Gramma loved to paint. We re-roofed and remodeled. Then about 1970 they bought the grand old house in Weiser for an astounding $15,000. It would become the real foundation for them and all their kids and grand kids. The meeting place for the whole family. Two stories with a big cellar, a big front porch and a back porch where you went into the basement. There was a separate garage that became the work shop, as well as a nice big yard. We had chickens in a portable pen we moved around on the lawn. This big old house became our base of operations. When we weren't fixing houses we were demolishing and salvaging them. I was very proficient at tearing things down and tearing them apart. With a claw hammer in each hand I could drive the claws of one in between the wood with the other and pull the nails out. We didn't throw anything away. If we couldn't use it I cut it up on the old table saw and we burned it in the cook stove in the kitchen. About 1971 the Dutch Elm Disease hit Weiser. Every Elm tree in town died that summer it seems. We filled the cellar with Elm wood. Cut and chopped ready for the wood cook stove. I remember we would cook the potato peels on the wood stove so the chickens would eat them. I can still see Grandma hanging clothes on the line, so beautiful, and hear hear yodeling, Eddy Arnold's Cattle Call.

One of my favorite things was to go to the dump with Grandpa. We would get rid of what we couldn't use, but we always hauled back more. To this day I am a scavenger and a pack rat. I can't stand to throw anything away. Grandpa loved to go to the auctions. He would always buy the pile of stuff no one else wanted. I can still hear the auctioneer, "Sold! Two bits, to the man with the cigar!" This is how I aquired my first set of quality Buckingham climbing spurs with long tree gaffs. 25 cents. I used them for 25 years. To me it was so fun to go through all this great stuff. Sort out the best goodies. Then of course we would put together a yard sale.
We had a television there in Weiser in the big house. The only thing I remember watching though, was Hee Haw and Lawrence Welk on Saturday nights. You might say it was a kind of rare treat once a week.
I would get up at 4:00 AM and go change sprinkler pipes for the farmers. It was always wet and sometimes frozen. Me and some other high school boys. We would watch the sun come up, laying those pipes straight. Then get ready and get to school. I only ate two meals a day. It was an old family tradition. It was too much work back on the farm to feed everyone three times a day. After school Grandma always had the best home cooked real food you could imagine. Then I would go back to the fields and work and watch the sun go down. Then on Sunday we did extra things on the farm, like bucking hay. I also had my own truck and did yard work and pruning and snow shoveling.
I haven't been able to get any high school kids to work for years. They all think it's something to be avoided. I still believe work ethic is everything. Doesn't matter if it's mental, physical, or spiritual. It's really sad. People need to develop their physical constitution when they're young. They say that on average you've reached your maximum potential by age 21. Then, that is the equipment you have for life.

Grandpa died in 1975. He was 70. Before that he told Grandma that I would take care of her. I had just come to Northern Idaho, Lapwai to be exact, in 1974. They had just bought this big old house in Craigmont ID. for $5,000.00. Grandma always had the Gypsy fever. Really they were following us kids and grandkids. After the funeral, everyone helped move truckloads and truckloads of stuff all the way to Craigmont. Then I hitchhiked back down to drive up another rig. With Grandpa gone she was not going to stay put very long. She sold the place and moved to Post Falls ID. to be near Marlena and her husband. We did the same thing all over again. I hitched hiked back again. Then she move back to Weiser and then to Payette ID. Each time she had a little less stuff.
I would have done anything she asked, and she would do the same for me. She would still try to give big hugs and kisses and say she loved me and I would still act like a little boy who couldn't stand it.
We went to see her in the nursing home in Payette. She aquired Alzheimers so fast it was unreal. It was almost like going to a funeral. She didn't know who we were until I brought out my guitar and sang some songs. Then we got her on the piano. She could still play.
After she died several years later. I had a dream. There she was. It was so real. I've had vivid dreams about all the one's that have died that were close to me. She wanted to give me big hugs and kisses. I grabbed her and squeezed and kissed her on the fore head and said, " I LOVE YOU GRAMMA."
It was so real. I sat right up in bed. My eyes were totally flooded with tears.
Sometimes I wonder why it takes 5o years to learn something. Some never do.


Anonymous said...

Hey pa, I finally got the web up. So this is blogging huh, suddenly the word makes sense.

Anonymous said...

You should try sliming salmon

Anonymous said...

Sarah Jean here

Anonymous said...

That story made me cry, and what a great picture So nice to see My dad is still handsome as ever

timmyjimi said...

What a great story, and well-written, too! Thanks, St. Germain.